Christmas in Italy - Celebrations, Food, Customs for an Italian Christmas

For those of you wondering how Italians spend Christmas in Italy this is for you. Italian Christmas celebrations begin long before the 25th December. In Italy, Christmas celebrations actually start on the 8th December with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception . Days before this celebration Italian women are busy in Italian kitchens making biscotti for this feast.

The 13th December is another special day to celebrate -
Santa Lucia .
 

Christmas in Italy: Christmas Eve Meals and Italian Traditions

On Christmas Eve the meal prepared is dominated by fish when years ago the Catholic decreed that meat could not be eaten on the night before Christmas as well as on Fridays. Although this ban has since been lifted but old habits die hard and many Catholic families around the world still follow this ruling by eating fish on Fridays as well as on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas Eve meal is the Feast of the Seven Fishes or the Feast of the Twelve Fishes which refers to the Christmas Vigil (
La Vigilia di Natale ) of waiting for Christmas day to come around. The number of fish dishes served have religious significance with 7 representing the last full week of Advent, or the seven sacraments, and 12 representing the 12 apostles.

Many of the Christmas Eve meals begin with a meatless antipasto of
Baccala , a dried salted cod, fish fillets, calamari, shrimps, mussels and clams can be found, along with provolone and mozzarella cheese, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, olives etc.

Sicily has its own unique cuisine and as a result their Christmas Eve meal is slightly different. Their antipasto often includes different fish and seafood such as eels, cured tuna (
bresola di tonne ), smoked swordfish and marinated octopus. Tomatoes, capers, chillies, olives, red peppers also make up the antipasto.

Plate after plate of fish dishes are prepared and then eaten with the family over a period of several hours.
Eels may also be served as one of the fish dishes in Sicily with tomatoes and capers. They also love
fristo misto which is a collection of seafood and fish fried in a light batter. Then there is pastizzu , a pie made with fish and vegetables that is also very popular. However, for sure one of those fish dishes will be baccala throughout Italy made from dried salted cod.

Panetonne and Italian Christmas bread.10 Along side the fish dishes there are other meatless dishes finished off with a few selections of desserts which usually includes panettone a large sweet bread made from raisins and dried fruit that originated in Milan, but now eaten and enjoyed throughout Italy.

Italian families love their
dolce at the end of any meal. However, during the Christmas season when they have finished their Christmas Eve meal, out will come the panettone and presents will be opened before heading out for midnight mass.
 

Christmas in Italy: Christmas Day Meals and Italian Traditions

Christmas Day in Italy dawns and food again predominates. For those who didn't quite make midnight mass the night before, they can attend morning mass before the Christmas mid-day meal.

Appetizers start emerging and differ according to the regions of Italy. Those who live in Sicily will be eating eggplants, swordfish and ricotta dishes are served. If you live in the Veneto area you can expect raddichio, fontina cheese and black truffles. In Lombardy beetroot ravioli is a special Christmas appetizer and in Liguria they make a special maccherioni that is made with pasta and capon broth mixed with tripe, luganega sausage and cardoons.

Next comes the popular stuffed pasta dishes served with a hot broth. The pasta could be stuffed with veal, pumpkin or beef. If you live in Abruzzo instead of stuffed pasta you could be sitting down to soup. Cardoon soup or chestnut soup could be on the menu. There is still pasta on the Christmas table in Abruzzo, but is is a type of spaghetti known as chitara spaghetti or guitar string pasta served with either a rich wild boar or hare meat sauce.

In the Trentino Alto-Adige region canederli - dumplings made with speck and stale bread in a hot broth follow appetizers of rolled speck stuffed with ricotta and sprinkled with Vezzana cheese of the region.

Depending on where you live it could be a meal a stuffed turkey or more traditionally a stuffed capon. The tender capon is usually stuffed with ham, black truffles, butter and Marsala wine. If a turkey is chosen then it is usually stuffed with chestnuts and prunes by those who have chestnut groves growing within the  region. Another popular stuffing for the turkey is chestnuts, dried fruit and pancetta.

The first Christmas we celebrated in Tuscany, I could not find a whole turkey in the supermarkets at all. And then one day I found a couple only to go back again to find that they had all been sold. We finally managed to get a turkey through special order at the local butchery, but it was touch and go, and 3 adult children not happy at all at the prospect that they may not be eating English traditional fare for Christmas!

In addition, there were no Christmas hams available at all. It is just not something that the Italians eat. So after that I had to make sure that I bought a pork leg and placed it in brine ready for Christmas day.

In the Trentino Alto-Adige region their main dish usually consists of red meats such as beef and lamb roasted with mushrooms, herbs and blueberries.

For those who live in Luguria fish is very much part of their staple diet. As a result their main Christmas meal is still fish; a delicious fish stew using lobsters, oysters, prawns, line fish, artichokes, salsify and potatoes.

After several hours of eating, dolce comes round to finish off the meal. Panetonne appears on more Christmas tables in Italy more than any other dessert. However, again there are regional specialties that are eaten instead.

In the Trentino Alto-Adige region their dessert is zelten, a bread similar to panettone but includes nuts and candied citron in addition to the traditional raisins and dried fruit.

In Verona they eat pandoro, in Siena it is panforte and in Sicily they eat buccellato, a cake made of figs, raisins, orange zest, spices, honey, walnuts, and chocolate.
 

Christmas in Italy: Italian New Year Celebrations

When you thought that the Christmas celebrations were over for the festive season Italian housewives are busy in the kitchen once again slaving over hot stoves preparing for New Year .

New Year in Italy is known as
San Silvestre and this time the eat dishes of lentils for good luck. The good luck comes in the shape of the lentils which look like small coins therefore eating these for New Year will ensure prosperity and wealth for the year.

The lentils are served in a variety of ways but traditionally with rich pork sausages from either Tuscany with
cotechino or Modena with zampone . Cotechino and zampone fillings are very similar although the filling for the cotechino is more finely minced and more spicy.

Those in Piedmont celebrate New Year a little differently. Risotto is central to their diet and therefore it stands to good reason that this would also be served on New Year's day along with lentils and other traditional dishes of the region such as
bagna cauda to start the meal.

However, the celebrations are not quite over because there is Epiphany on the 6th January. Not only are cookies baked for this day but this is a great day for kids who look forward to
Bafana the witch, the street celebrations and more presents for good children.
 

Bafana the Witch


Finally, Christmas in Italy and all Italian celebrations are finally over for another year.

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